Sanford one of the Vikings' lucky seventh-rounders

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2012 - 9:03 AM

Jamarca Sanford stared down long odds by earning a starting job as a seventh-round pick, and he wants to make an even bigger impact.

Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford took the piece of paper and studied the list of names written on it.

Noel Scarlett, Chester Burnett, Giles Cole, Chad Beasley, Adrian Ward, Chandler Williams ...

"No idea," Sanford said when asked if he recognized the names or what they had in common.

Bill Slater, Josh Brown, Fred Tabrone, Bob Winkel, Carl Hilton, Benji Roland ...

Like Sanford, all of them were selected by the Vikings in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Since 1994, that's also been the final round of the draft.

"I never looked at the names on that list," Sanford said. "But I might have to now."

The Vikings have selected 53 players in the seventh round since they joined the NFL in 1961. Twenty of them have played at least one regular-season game for the Vikings. In number of career starts, Sanford (25) ranks fourth on that list behind only tight end Steve Jordan (149) and defensive backs Carl Lee (144) and Bobby Bryant (121).

"Jamarca was a seventh-rounder?" said Vikings defensive end D'Aundrae Reed, a seventh-rounder last year. "That just shows you that once you get in the league, it can be a whole different ballgame than it was on draft day."

Battle for job

Sanford has started the past six games. He'll make it seven in a row Sunday despite the fact that Mistral Raymond, the guy who beat him out in training camp, is back to 100 percent following a dislocated ankle. Raymond will rotate in for the second consecutive game, but coach Leslie Frazier wasn't about to move him ahead of a guy who has averaged nearly eight tackles, with a team-high four forced fumbles, over the past six games.

"We felt Jamarca was the backup for a reason," said Frazier, "but he has really played better than we thought he would in a starting role."

Hanging on to the starting job heading to Chicago is no small accomplishment. First, it's a division contest against a team the Vikings trail by one game. Second, if Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returns from his concussion, as the Vikings believe he will, the Bears have one of the league's most dangerous downfield passing games with receiver Brandon Marshall.

One reason the Vikings picked Raymond as their opening-day strong safety is his length, which comes in handy on deep passes. He's 3 inches taller and has longer arms and range than the 5-10 Sanford, whose draft stock fell because he was considered a weak cover guy deep downfield.

A common theme

Sanford has improved as a deep cover guy, but his limitations always will invite competition. But that's OK by him. He's traveled that road before.

From 2009 to 2011, he went head to head with Tyrell Johnson, a much preferred candidate. Johnson was a second-round pick that the Vikings traded up for in 2008. Yet Sanford prevailed, starting 15 games last year. Johnson, out of football, worked out for the Vikings earlier this season but wasn't signed.

"What I went through with Tyrell my second year really helped me this year," Sanford said. "After my first year, they told me to come back and me and Tyrell would compete for the starting job. I lost the job and it tore me down. I was hurt, and I took a step back because I was mentally gone."

Sanford's improved attitude is one of the reasons Raymond hasn't pried his old job loose from Sanford's grip.

"It's nothing that Mistral did or didn't do," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "Jamarca has just earned the right to keep starting. And what I don't think people realize is how much of a leader Jamarca is. His practice habits and his communication skills are exceptional. He treats practice like it's a ballgame, and that's rare."

Making his mark

Frazier was the team's defensive coordinator when it drafted Sanford. He remembers the pick being made more for special teams, at which Sanford continues to excel.

"We saw some things [at safety] that were the reasons why he was a seventh-round pick," Frazier said. "But we also saw some things that showed he had the potential to be a very good NFL player."

Sanford isn't heading to the Pro Bowl any time soon. But he has exceeded the typical expectations that come with a seventh-round pick.

"But I don't think I've exceeded my expectations yet," he said. "Not yet. What I want to be is a player that's known. A player everybody knows about. I don't want to be just another guy who played a few games in the NFL."

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